I know the language is kind of strong, but there seems to be swell of hate crime in Tennessee over the past few years – and that is not even counting the anti-Muslim based activity and rhetoric that our state experienced recently.
In years past Tennessee was known as the “Volunteer State”, a nickname earned during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee, especially during the Battle of New Orleans. It was also home to Andrew Jackson, Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett.
Tennessee has given electric power to rural America through the Tennessee Valley Authority and was home to the Manhattan Project. From atomic power to Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton, Tennessee has given much to the American Culture.
Right now it is giving something that some of us aren’t very proud of.
Over the years we’ve witnessed horrible stories of anti-gay hate come from the Volunteer State. In October, Laura and Carol Stutte’s home was burned to the ground in an obvious act of anti-gay arson. However, the investigation into that crime has gone nowhere.
Just recently the Tennessee Equality Project has brought our attention to two very disturbing stories. First, the firing of Belmont University’s women’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe, after she revealed the she and her partner were going to have a child, but the one I really want to focus on is the recent story of Akasha Adonis. She was beaten at an early morning Black Friday opening at Kohl’s department story in Jackson, TN. Alledgedly, Kohl’s security stood idle while Akasha’s hair was pulled out and three of her teeth were forcibly removed while also breaking her jaw. To make matters worse, the police response was appalling.
Remember, we’re talking about Tennessee. Tennessee has a problem with accepting gender nonconformity. In 1999, PFC Barry Winchell was beaten to death with a baseball bat by a fellow soldier for dating Calpernia Adams, then a performer at a Nashville gay bar. In 2001, Willie Houston, a straight man, was killed for holding his wife’s purse and guiding a blind male friend while their wives went to the restroom. In 2009, we suffered the loss of Tiffany Berry, Duanna Johnson, and Ebony Whitaker.
It is horrible when these crimes occur, but there is something even more revolting when the perpetrators are the police or the police fail to act in good faith. Take, for example, Duanna Johnson. A video was leaked to the press showing a Memphis City officer beating her mercilessly while she was handcuffed and in custody (I still can’t watch without crying):
The day after filing a lawsuit against the City of Memphis, Duanna was found executed with a bulleted to her head. I had the unhappy task of raising money for her funeral. To date, no charges have ever been filed by the City of Memphis against either officer – one of which has committed suicide.
“Four Jackson Police Department officers responded to the scene. Officer Ashley M. McCullar interviewed Akasha, her mother, and the woman who was attacked. At first, Officer McCullar treated Akasha with respect. But Akasha noticed a marked change in attitude towards her when the officer learned she was transgender (Akasha’s photo I.D. lists her name as Johnathan Quick).”
When the officer first arrived on the scene and asked about the assault, he addressed me as she then asked for my i.d. and my name. [When] the officer saw that it was a male name, and I was a male to female transexual, he immediately changed his demeanor in how he treated me and the other witnesses. He rolled his eyes and turned his back to not look at me and said that he had ‘other places to be.’ There was no more conversation directed to me but to fellow officers and [other] people. He was short and rude/dismissive to witnesses and to the officers I was the ‘He not She.’ The officer told my mother that the case would take a few days to write up and he would get the surveillance tape and then walked away. In the officer report he put in that “the black male then defended himself and put Quick in his place.”
“After learning that Akasha was transsexual, Akasha states that the officer made no real attempt to apprehend the suspect nor cared to view the surveillance video knowing that the suspect had not yet left the store.”
Some people may have forgotten that this behavior isn’t necessarily new for the Jackson Police Department. In 2007, lesbian Miranda Greer was attacked in a local bar.
“[Miranda] Greer said a man approached her after he saw her dancing with a male friend. The man, a patron at the club, thought she was a gay man and, using a slur, told her to leave.
Greer told him she was a woman and a lesbian, she said. The man responded by punching her in the face.”
The man then used the bottom of a beer bottle to jab her in the left eye about four times before smashing the bottle over the back of her head.
What is sad about this story is that Jacksonville Police arrested Ms. Greer and employees of the bar sneaked the assailant out the back door.
Tennessee really needs a wake up call. One thing for sure, we are volunteering plenty of hate.